There is a fundamental truth about test takers when it comes to the LSAT: everyone is different. That is, everyone who sits down with this exam will have unique strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and ultimately, ways they can optimize their performance in every section. While that certainly affects how it is that people prepare, I think it also dictates how test takers should behave during the actual test. In this three-part blog series, we will look at each of the section types on the LSAT and consider exactly how an informed test taker should attack each type. The first posts examine Logic Games and Reading Comprehension. Our final section and the topic of this post is Logical Reasoning.
As we did with Games and Reading Comp, it’s worthwhile to consider a few facts about Logical Reasoning before we talk strategy:
- There are approximately 25 questions in the scored Logical Reasoning section and the questions will be a mix of many different types. A total of 13 question types are possible, although only about 9 or 10 appear with much frequency. They are presented in random order.
- Unlike Games and Reading, the questions in LR tend to increase in difficulty as you get deeper into the section. So, questions in the 14-20 range are generally harder than questions 1-7.
- There are two important points to note about the progressive difficulty increase. It’s a general trend as opposed to a perfect gradient. On average questions get harder, but you can’t make absolute predictions from one question to the next. The last few questions, say 22-25 or so, tend to be slightly easier than the questions immediately preceding them. I won’t get into the potential reasons why that is, just know that it is typically the case.
- As always, “difficulty” itself is dependent on both the nature of the question, as well as your personal preferences and abilities.
Difficulty is Relative
Let’s continue that fourth point on the subjectivity of “difficulty. It’s a similar discussion to what we saw with Games. As you prepare, certain questions or question types are often either inherently easier or more difficult for a feature they contain. In LR, you may prefer the usually mild Must be True question with simple conditional reasoning. In contrast, you might struggle with the typically more challenging page-long Parallel Reasoning question, or a question with a stimulus containing extremely abstract discussions of philosophical ideas. For example, this doozy.
“A precept can be thought to be morally justifiable if the consequences of acting upon that precept do not infringe upon…”
You will find that you have strengths and weaknesses—question types you tend to perform more strongly or poorly with. Over time and practice, these will become fairly consistent and often predictable. This, again, suggests that the notion of “difficulty” is best defined by the individual.
How to Approach Logical Reasoning
What do these “truths” about Logical Reasoning dictate in terms of strategy? You won’t be able to scan the entire section to choose the ideal question order like the other sections. However, you can still let your knowledge of increasing difficulty and your personal preferences guide you. I advise students to take multiple passes through the section. On your first pass, work steadily through the questions and attempt to complete each in one to two minutes. If you encounter a few successive questions that seem near-impenetrable, you’re in the higher-level portion of the section. Move forward with more discretion. If you notice one or two questions in a set are particularly short, attempt them first. Save the longer questions for your second pass.
Bang for Your Buck
We talk about this “bang for your buck” in Games and Reading in terms of tackling the game or passage with the most questions. It works similarly here. Shorter questions tend to take less time, so you can do more of them in the time remaining. Or, they could buy you more time for longer questions if you finish them before time is up. The key is filtering the remaining ten or so questions through your knowledge and experiences. Devote the remainder of your first pass to those where you feel you are most likely to be successful. This ensures that you will have an opportunity to try the last few questions. As mentioned previously, they are usually a bit easier than the 8-10 they follow. Once you make it to the end of a section, you can make your second pass through the section. Review the unanswered questions and determine the ones that are most preferable by length, type, and/or initial reaction to the stimulus content.
The advantage of this strategy of adaptive attack is that it ensures your time in the section is spent where it will confer the greatest benefit. The questions where your odds of a strong performance are highest is where you should focus your time. Relegating questions that are time-consuming or more difficult to a tier of lesser importance is crucial to this strategy.
Finally, we once again have a final thought to consider as we wrap up this discussion.
- You must maintain a high degree of self-awareness as you move through the section. Some questions may seem representative of past experiences where you have been successful. But, as you begin reading the stimulus you may find that they are much more difficult than anticipated. If that’s the case, the best decision may be to stop and move to a different question. Rather than potentially wasting time trying to decipher text that is more confusing than you expected, move forward. As wise test takers know, just because you initially commit to something does not mean you absolutely must see it through. Choosing to spend your time elsewhere can be an extremely prudent decision in a number of situations. As I say often, making prudent decisions is the key to reaching your full potential on the LSAT.